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Historic: Greece Invites Us To Vote

Greece’s relationship with Hellenes abroad is at a historic inflection point. The catalyst for this is the advertising campaign of the Greek government and specifically the government minister in charge of electoral affairs, Makis Voridis, who calls on the diaspora to register to vote so that we may be able to have our voices heard by voting in the next Greek elections.

Not only those who were born in Greece have this right, but also every Greek-American who was born in the United States and meets the terms of the relevant law.

As I follow this campaign – which of course runs in our publications, print and digital – tears well up in my eyes from the various emotions I experience.

Who would have thought that one day this day would come!

When this newspaper, with a series of editorials, raised the issue of offering the right to vote in Greek national elections to its expatriates, decades ago, many believed that we were wasting our time.

And indeed, while various politicians verbally supported this right of ours, in practice they tossed the proposals to get it done into the wastebasket. It was one of their many broken promises; this one made in the context of their alleged admiration for our expatriate community without any meaningful action to accompany the flattering words.

As the years passed, we watched as the number of countries that gave the right to vote to expatriates increased – and, in response, our indignation increased.

There was the absurd situation, and unfortunately it continues with the new law in many cases – such as in my case – where one is allowed to vote in the place where s/he was born in Greece, like all Greeks, but cannot vote in the place where s/he lives.

Thus, especially in the early years of PASOK, Olympic Airways planes were filled with expatriates to whom the company provided cheap tickets so they could travel to Greece and vote hopefully for PASOK.

When Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue of the right to vote for expatriates as one of his main pre-election promises, there were many who said that this was just a ploy to gain votes, without ever intending to fulfil it as prime minister. And yet…

Immediately after the elections, Mitsotakis started the process for granting the vote to those living abroad. And while he wanted to give the same rights to expatriates that are possessed by citizens who live in Greece, but with the right to exercise the vote in their places of residence – the main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras demanded the imposition of conditions that excluded a large percentage, if not the largest blocs, from voting.

In order for this bill to pass the Parliament, the votes of 2/3 of its members were required, i.e. 200. Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party had 158. So the Prime Minister needed to decide whether he would pass the bill even in its imperfect form, or not at all.

Many expatriates, out of justified bitterness, were in favor of ‘nothing.’ I remember that in one of my speeches in Montreal in front of a fairly large audience, I had received, in a strong tone, a question about the “degrading,” as he rightly called it, bill for Hellenes Abroad. I replied that his theory of “all or nothing” did not work for me. Let us seize the opportunity, I told him, now that it has been given to us, in the hope that we will improve it later.

Today it is clearer than ever that Mitsotakis was right. Who would have thought that the day would come when Greece itself would launch an advertising campaign to convince us to vote in the next elections from the places where we live? Undoubtedly, this is a historical development in the relations between Greece and the Hellenes abroad. And this is an opportunity that we must seize – and use as a lever of pressure to improve this law and to address our other problems and issues.

We can now move from criticizing the ‘wrongs’ in Greece to improving them by participating in political processes.
The messages of the campaign are also aimed at U.S.-born Hellenes Abroad and are also available in English.

It is likely that the number of those who will respond will not be so large, as the current conditions that are set – such as the requirement to have lived in Greece for two out of the last 35 years – are almost prohibitive. However, let those who meet the conditions seize the opportunity to register, even if they do not intend to vote.

We don’t all vote on every election day in the United States, even though we have the right to. I therefore call on those who meet the conditions to at least register to vote.

I repeat that it is of great importance that expatriates have been given the opportunity to contribute to the formation of a New Greece.

Greece is coming much closer to us. Let’s respond.


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